The Perfect Cub

The one-eyed vixen has brought out her cub:

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Over the past few weeks, we have been treating her for mange but it is a slow process and I was worried that her cub would have caught mange from her before the medicine had had a chance to work. But, as it turns out, the cub is perfect:

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Or are there two cubs:

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I haven’t managed to properly work this out yet but I think the other cub might have a different mother.

The one-eyed vixen still looks pretty tatty even after all this time of putting out medicated jam sandwiches for her. She hasn’t got any worse but there are no signs of her fur growing back yet. However, there was another mangey Fox that we were also targeting who had a very ropey tail. Here he is in mid April:

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Delighted to see how well he is doing now with fur growing back along the length of his tail. And lovely to feel like we have made a bit of a difference.

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With all these young animals, there are many more takers for the peanuts at dusk:

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The two mothers and four cubs

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When did we last have rain? It has been another tremendously dry spring and the ground is very hard and difficult to dig for worms in. At this point, the mother Badgers will be gradually weaning their cubs and withdrawing their milk so that the cubs have  to learn how to feed themselves. I read that, in years of spring drought, there is a great death toll amongst the young Badgers who are not strong enough and experienced enough to get to the worms that make up 70% of their diet and they simply starve.

We will do what we can to help by increasing the amount of peanuts that go out each evening until it next rains but currently there is no rain to be seen in the forecast. This does mean, of course, that we are getting through a tremendous amount of peanuts. We buy all our bird food from Vine House Farm – a farm in Lincolnshire that manages to be extremely wildlife friendly whilst still making a profit with their farming of bird food. Nicholas Watts showed a group of us from Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory round his farm a few years ago and we were extremely impressed with what he is achieving there. He trials conservation ideas out on the farm and shares the results with other farmers.

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Two of the fluffy baby Badgers
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An adult caught mid bedding collection
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Impatient to get going and appearing before it gets dark
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A magnificent Fox

Although we rarely see Buzzards here, shockingly there was a dead one lying on the grass one morning.

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The bird ringer came up to have a look at it and reported that it had broken its neck, presumably by accidentally flying into something. We put it onto the cliff path for the Foxes:

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The bird ringer has been doing some ringing here as well, now that The British Trust for Ornithology are once again allowing ringing outside one’s own garden.

He ringed four more Yellowhammer:

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He also caught two Whitethroat, a male and a female. The female had a brood pouch indicating that she was nesting:

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Male Whitethroat
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Female Whitethroat

The female Whitethroat was born this time last year. She has then flown all the way to Africa and back and still has the same feathers that she grew whilst in the nest. The middle tail feathers are practically bare by this stage:

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She now needs to raise her family and get them fledged and away and then she can finally moult and clothe herself in some more efficient new feathers to return to Africa later this summer.

At this time of year, the easiest way to sex Starlings is by their eye ring. The chestnut outer ring shows that this is a female. A male eye would be all black.

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Goldfinch

This Blackbird has been born this year. It is nice to discover that some nests manage to stay under the radar of the ever-watchful scrutiny of the Magpies and Crows.

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When I initially looked at this photo below, I thought that the Herring Gull was sorting out our over-abundant Magpie problem but then I saw that, of course, I was mistaken.

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We have also been seeing baby Robins and, in the last couple of days, a large number of recently fledged Starlings have appeared. The adult Starlings will now go straight on to having another brood whilst the offspring of the first broods will hang around in a gang together, working the meadows for invertebrates in the soil.

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Adult Starling on the left on the perch and three fledglings.
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Fledgling Starlings look rather odd

Brown Argus Butterflies have made their first appearance of the year in the meadows:

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They are very small Butterflies but not as tiny as the Small Blue:

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I thought I was seeing a Spider with a blue abdomen crawling in the soil and I ran for my camera:

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We caught it in a jam jar and discovered that actually it is a female Wolf Spider (Pardosa monticola or palustris) carrying her egg sac:

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The Oxeye Daisies are starting to come out in the meadows. They seem to be especially abundant this year:

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The chalk-loving Hoary Plantains (Plantago media) are also coming into flower, looking like wonderful sparklers:

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A Common Malachite Beetle, Malachius bipustulatus, a soft-winged flower Beetle, that I saw on the Hoary Plantain as I was photographing them

A couple of weeks ago, I reported to you that a Roe Deer had visited the wood. I now know I have misidentified this very large Deer:

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We are blessed with like-minded neighbouring wood-owners and this Deer has also been in their wood. They have images of it from behind and calculated the height to its shoulders to be around 1 metre by seeing how high it came up a tree. The upshot is that it seems that this is a Red Deer, which is surprise because their distribution map doesn’t show them in East Kent.

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Our neighbours image of the Red Deer

The rump of a Roe Deer, its smaller size and its head shape are all very different.

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Internet photo of Roe Deer from behind.

We might not often see Buzzards in the meadows but we frequently see them in the wood:

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Last year, a pair of beautiful Bullfinch nested in the wood and came to this pond every day, in due course also bringing their three fledglings. I had hoped that they would be back again this year and perhaps these photos mean that they are:

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Female Bullfinch (and Songthrush)
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Fleeting glimpse of a male Bullfinch as he flew.

I hope to get better images of this pair as the summer progresses. We are also trying to improve the photos taken at the Green Woodpeckers nest:

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Although the Great Spotted Woodpecker from time to time comes to peer into the hole, I don’t think that they are nesting in the same tree. But once the young start calling, they are so noisy and insistent that we should be able to pin down what’s going on.

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Great Spotted Woodpecker looking into a Green Woodpecker nest

Now that the nights are starting to warm up, I am getting much larger catches of Moths in the Moth trap and it takes quite a time the next morning to go through and identify them all. Last year I really didn’t have the space in my life to do this and ended up cherry picking the easy ones. This year, however, improving my moth recognition skills is exactly what I should be doing whilst locked down. Actually I am finding it incredibly satisfying to put the time in and get them correctly recorded. So, this year, for the first time, I will be proudly submitting my results to the County Moth Recorder – a small positive to come out of a terrible time.

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The spectacular Privet Hawk-moth, Eyed Hawk-moth and Lime Hawk-moth. I wish they were all as easy to identify as these beauties.

Pollination Heroes

It is always very satisfying to find a jigsaw piece that had previously been missing and slot it into its proper place in the puzzle. Mason Bees build walls of mud in their nests to create cells, into which they deposit a pile of pollen and lay a single egg. We have seen them gathering and carrying the pollen but, up until now, we have never been able to establish where they are getting their mud from.

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Red Mason Bee nests in an observation box

There are lots of them at work in the orchard and the hedgerows, collecting pollen from the flowers. Rather than carrying the pollen in baskets on their legs like Honey Bees and Bumble Bees, they hold the pollen on their tummies. This is a very inefficient way of doing things and pollen gets knocked off every time they visit another flower – which is what makes them fantastic pollinators, of course. Apparently it takes 20,000 Honey Bees to pollinate an acre of fruit trees but just 250 Mason Bees. What pollination heavy-weights they are.

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Coming in to her nest with a tummy full of pollen
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A female, carrying pollen on her tummy, pursued by a hopeful male. I had to spend time in a semi-squat to take these photos, peering upwards. There was only so long I could be in that position.

But it was a mystery where they were getting the soil from to make the mud walls. It needs to be damp and so we had looked at the edges of the ponds to see if they are going there but they didn’t seem to be. Now – and this is where our breakthrough comes –  for the first time, the Badgers have dug a tunnel that opens into the meadows rather than onto the cliff and, on a warm, sunny afternoon this week, I noticed that Bees were buzzing in down the tunnel.

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Getting down immediately onto my knees and peering in, sure enough, I saw that Red Mason Bees were flying about a foot down where it was cool, shady and moist and gathering up balls of soil.

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Gathering soil from down the Badger hole
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A female going back to her nest – this time her abdomen has no pollen on it but she is carrying a ball of soil in her mouth.

Such a revelation. It won’t only be Badger tunnels that they are using but we now know the sort of soil that they are looking for.

There is quite a worrying size disparity between the young Badgers.

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The single cub is second left. The triplets are alongside it and a mother Badger behind.

The single cub, born to the younger, inexperienced mother is not growing like the triplets are.

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The single cub on the right, facing one of the triplets. Mother behind.
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The single cub in the middle with one of the triplets to its left.

Not only is it very small compared to the triplets, it is also still being dragged around by its mother several times a night:

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It all feels not quite right but there is nothing we can do. Everything might anyway be fine – the young Badger certainly remains very lively and is playing well with the other cubs.

The male, Scarface, is interacting with the triplets below for the first time that we have seen. He must have come up under the fence and happened upon them by accident.

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Scarface on the left, attempting to groom one of the young

The mother comes forward and gives him a sharp rebuke and he immediately fades away backwards under the fence. He knows he is not allowed around the cubs at this stage and he completely accepts the telling off.

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It has been cold and breezy for most of the week and, in particular, bitter north-easterly winds gusting to 55mph blew solidly over Sunday and Monday. One of the Seatrade vessels sheltered alongside us on Monday – this is Pacific Reefer, a refrigerated cargo ship, that brings Caribbean fruits once a week into Dover. She carries bananas and pineapple below deck and containers of avocados, mangos, papayas, grapes, pomegranates and melons on the deck. She left Paita in Peru on 26th April, navigated her way through the Panama Canal, made her way across the Atlantic Ocean and arrived here in a gale on 11th May, 15 days later.

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Another ship that caught our attention this week was the Sky Princess, travelling from Rotterdam to Limassol in Cyprus. This cruise ship was only launched in October 2019 and can carry 3,660 guests and 1,346 crew and should have a 3 star Michelin chef on board. She did manage to get some Caribbean cruising in over the winter before all cruises were cancelled until further notice. I wonder how many people there are currently on board?

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From time to time, however, the winds dropped and we heaved sighs of relief.  Here are some of the things that have been going on:

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A beautiful Fox
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And another..
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The one-eyed vixen with her blind left eye –  somewhat flawed but still a beauty
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A fungal gall, Taphrina pruni, on Blackthorn that has made the developing sloe look like a chilli.
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A lovely patch of Wild Mignonette growing on some disturbed ground
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It does look like several of the seed pods on the Early Spider Orchid have been pollinated (probably self pollinated) and are starting to swell.
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Summer feels like it is officially starting with the arrival of the first Common Blue
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I have finally found a Ladybird that was not a Harlequin. A British 7-spot Ladybird.
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7-spot Ladybird

Like Red Mason Bees, Moths are also very important pollinators, although often overlooked by us humans since they mostly visit the flowers in the dark. Their furry bodies transfer the pollen around really nicely.

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Mother Shipton, a day-flying moth out in the meadows
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A Swallow Prominent from the Moth trap
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A Peppered Moth from the Moth trap

Although this bird below might look like it is a miserable victim of some drowning accident, regular readers will know very well that this is a perfectly healthy Green Woodpecker rubbing itself in sand after a bath.

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Although Green Woodpeckers are definitely the winners when it comes to extreme bathing, to my mind Jays come second. Here is one from the wood:

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The wood is completely glorious right now:

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This Song Thrush was gathering a lot of nesting material from around the pond area:

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A Buzzard has been hunting in this spot often over the past few weeks. I have had a look to see if I can see anything particularly interesting there, but found nothing.

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There are not a lot of Foxes in the wood but this one looks very healthy with a fantastic tail:

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Here it is with prey – looks like a bird to me.

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We have kept the camera on a pole looking at the Green Woodpecker nest:

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There is now a second camera on a pole hopefully looking at two other holes in the same tree to see if either of them are also being used this year. I will report back after our next visit.

In the regeneration area, the Guelder Rose trees (Viburnum opulus) are under attack:

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These are the larvae of the Viburnum Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni. A native British Beetle but occurring here in numbers such that the leaves are being reduced to lacework. Not surprisingly this is seen as a garden pest – no gardener would want this happening to their Viburnums.

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I couldn’t find a single Guelder Rose that was unaffected. Hopefully the trees will grow more leaves once these larvae have pupated, but we will have to wait and see.

If I had any ability at all to paint, I would love to try to capture the drama and movement onto canvas of this last photo below. It is a really interesting composition and such a painting would look great on our wall.

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A Country Worth Fighting For

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We had a quiet and contemplative al fresco lunch today to mark the 75th anniversary of VE day. We know from old mapping that, not twenty metres from where we were sitting, there was a slit trench and an observation post looking out towards France during the war. It feels important to spend some time acknowledging what terrible times those were.

The wood in May is absolutely glorious. The Ferns are gently unfurling and the trees becoming clothed in fresh, green leaf.

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Large areas of Bugle in early May
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Leaves starting to resprout on the Hazel coppice stools that we cut over the winter
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The Cinnabar Moth’s underwings are all scarlet and this is what shows when it flies. Fluttering vermilion amongst the blue of the Bugle and Speedwell.

Because the feeders were not filled up for so long, we have lost a lot of our birds and the feeders, now replenished, hang there forlornly unvisited. However, we looked in a few of our small nest boxes as we walked around and every one had a nest in, so not all birds have deserted us:

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Great Tit on eggs

Last year we found a Great Spotted Woodpecker nest with loudly-calling young in a large Cherry Tree. This year, there is a new hole drilled into the same tree – they do sometimes use the same nest but often make a new one instead. We tried to arrange a camera on a long pole so that it pointed at this new hole to get some photos of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers going in and out. However, we didn’t get the camera position quite right and it was instead pointing at a different hole altogether. In the event, this turned out to be quite fortuitous:

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This older hole turns out to be an active Green Woodpecker nest. Green Woodpeckers, with softer beaks since they are generally pecking into soil to eat ants, do use the same hole repeatedly. They lay a single batch of 4-6 eggs in May and both parents share the incubation.

So, are Great Spotted Woodpeckers also nesting in this same tree as these Green Woodpeckers? We will get a second camera up on a pole and see if we can find out.

As well as lots of photos of Green Woodpeckers at this hole, the trail camera did also capture a Squirrel peering in. Actually it did this on several occasions and I read that apparently Grey Squirrels can be significant predators of bird nests.

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And also a Great Spotted Woodpecker had a look in:

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Even though we have been very absent recently, we have our trusty trail cameras to show us some of the things that have been going on without us. Like this, for instance:

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This is such a big animal with very knobbly knees – a Roe Deer. In fact, the same Deer turned up on a different camera as well and what a beautiful animal he is:

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And then the next photo was this:

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It seems that ground has not yet become too hard for the Tawny Owl to attempt to catch some worms. Here is its classic head down, concentrating hard, worming posture:

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And this is a particularly sweet little rabbit:

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Over winter we were working hard coppicing the Hazel in the wood. These operations were prematurely curtailed and we are yet to clear the ground in the area that we were working. There are piles of logs and brash still sitting on the woodland floor that, by rights, should now be getting sunlight onto it and bursting forth with woodland flowers. It would be lovely to properly get back to the wood and finish this job off.

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This week we had another walk in the nearby disused military firing range under the chalk cliffs. There were several clumps of Early Spider Orchids there:

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There is a Kestrel nest high up on the cliffs in a hole in the chalk. This time we couldn’t see a bird on the nest, but we did see Kestrels on the cliffs. This one had rodent prey:

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Back in the meadows, the Buttercup bonanza has probably now reached its wonderful peak.

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The allotment with Buttercup meadows beyond

A Chiffchaff has arrived from Africa and can be heard singing along in the hedgerows.

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The Chiffchaff that arrived in the meadows this week and hasn’t shut up since, it seems.

But this is not the only newly arrived bird that we have been hearing this week – the raucously loud and unmistakable calls of Peacocks were disturbing our peaceful English twittering on Wednesday evening.  They must have been roosting immediately below the meadows overnight because they were still calling from there at dawn on Thursday.  A quick search on the internet tells me that four Peacocks have escaped from a village just north of Deal. The owner didn’t clip their wings to allow them to roost in trees to be safe from Foxes. Two have been recaptured but the remaining two are still at large and they now have their own Facebook page and have been on the ITV news.

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Internet photo of the four escaped Peacocks. They invaded a local garage in Deal for a while including getting onto the office, it seems. I don’t understand why they didn’t just close the door on them and then all four of them would have been recaptured.

There is a lot of Broad Bodied Chaser activity at the ponds and eggs are being laid.

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A male, awaiting the arrival of a female

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A female grabbing hold of a Buttercup to rest up for a while.

It is that time of year when countless St Mark’s Flies billow around the hedgerows with their legs distinctively dangling.

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St Marks Flies.

We stood and watched the predatory male Dance Flies, Empis tessellata, who catch the St Marks flies and hold them across their bodies awaiting a female.

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Empis tessellata with his prey, a St Mark’s Fly, held below him

When a female arrives, the male offers her the St Marks Fly as a gift and then mates with her as she eats it:

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Male at the top, holding on to the leaf and to the female.  Female in the middle, eating the hapless St Marks Fly at the bottom.

While we were watching this fascinating drama being played out under our noses in the hedgerow, we saw these very little mating Flies with the most amazing green eyes:

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They are Celery Flies, Euleia heraclei, a species of Picture-winged Flies. After mating, eggs will be laid on host plants which will hatch and the larvae mine the leaves of the plants. They use a wide range of plants from the Apiaceae (Umbellifer) family – including Alexanders and there is a bountiful supply of those plants around here.

This is a nice Hoverfly with its bright yellow hairs:

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Myathropa florea

I thought that this tiny little day-flying moth below was a Mint Moth but it turns out to be the similar Common Purple and Gold Moth:

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Common Purple and Gold Moth

Another really small Moth:

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Small Yellow Underwing

And this minuscule little thing, the Small Blue Butterfly:

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I finally got a photo of a Wall Butterfly that I am pleased with

This Slow Worm is in the process of shedding its skin. It is interesting to see this happening and that the older skin, still on the back part of its body, is a darker colour.

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Looking to the skies, we saw our first Swifts on Thursday. Two of them, feeding over the meadows, and what a sight for sore eyes they were. By Friday, a pair were repeatedly flying by the Swift nest box and even briefly perched up on the bat box.

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We have also had a visit from two Red Kites, mobbed by Crows. Visits from Kites seem to be getting more frequent and I wonder if their range has spread closer to us.

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The meadows trail cameras have been coming up with some good stuff over the last few days:

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Male Kestrel

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Only our third ever sighting of a Hedgehog here. This animal needs to get itself away and fast – there are far too many Foxes and Badgers in these parts
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A Badger arriving too early for peanut time

May is the most magical of months. We were due to go on holiday this weekend and clearly this is not now happening. But the England we live in, the country that the people of seventy-five years ago had fought so hard for and sacrificed so much for, is a lovely place to be at any time but especially in May and June and we now wonder why we would want to be anywhere else.

 

 

Summer Visitors

So, here we now are in marvellous May. We are expecting some summer visitors from Africa shortly and have been busy preparing for them.

Actually, from the scritchy-scratchy song that we are hearing around the meadows, our first guests have already arrived. We didn’t need to do anything special for these ones – merely neglecting to tidy the hedgerows so that there is lots of wild, thorny growth does the trick  because that is exactly where they like to nest. Here is one of them, a Whitethroat, just back from sub-Saharan Africa:

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I understand from nature Facebook groups that I follow that other expected visitors, Swifts, have been arriving back to breeding sites around Britain. We haven’t seen any here yet but the bungs have now been taken out of the nest box and the electronic Swift calls turned on to remind them about our box once they do return.  Lots of them inspected it last year and I am really hopeful that this year they will decide to nest.

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The Swift box, primed and ready for action. Hopefully.

Our third potential summer visitor is the Turtle Dove. We are now starting the Year Three of putting down supplementary feed from the beginning of May to the end of June using a special seed mix provided by Operation Turtle Dove and the RSPB.

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Scattering the seed on the strip

Although, on paper, the meadows provide everything that a Turtle Dove might be looking for in a nesting site, we are yet to have any success in attracting them here. However, other declining farmland birds such as Linnets, Yellowhammer, Stock Dove and Grey Partridge have been visiting the seed and breeding locally and that too is an excellent result. We haven’t seen Grey Partridge since last year, though, but we remain ever hopeful.

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A male Linnet in glorious, full breeding plumage
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A ringed male Linnet photo taken by the bird ringer last year at the nearby disused military firing range. This bird was almost certainly ringed in the meadows. The bird ringer tells us he has ringed a total of 218 Linnets in the meadows.

 

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A surreal image of a Yellowhammer taken by the trail camera

We might not yet have seen Turtle Doves on the strip, but we do have two other species of Dove:

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A pair of Collared Doves have recently arrived in the meadows
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Stock Dove
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The UK holds 60% of the European population of Stock Doves and so we need to look after them
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They have lovely raspberry-coloured feet

And we have many Wood Pigeon:

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Cross eyed Wood Pigeon

Seeing these Doves and Pigeon milling around on the strip is what might catch the eye of a passing Turtle Dove and intrigue it enough to fly down to investigate. Here is Day 1 of the seed going down and the Stock Dove are playing their part wonderfully.

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It is such a privilege to be able to watch the Badger cubs as they start to learn how to be proper Badgers. They are becoming noticeably more confident every night.

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There are definitely four cubs but they are in constant motion and difficult to get a good photo of. I don’t know if the single cub is currently grounded and kept escaping, but it got carried back to its sett three times last night, at 9pm, midnight and 3am:

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The male, Scarface, is not allowed anywhere near the cubs at this stage of the proceedings and is living a solitary life at the fringes. As the days lengthen, he has been spotted out in daylight a few times.

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At the end of a hard night’s worming

After a long spell of dry and sunny weather, we have finally had some rain to refill the ponds and refresh the land.

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At this time of year, the meadows are awash with Buttercups and it is impossible not to be cheered by them:

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Cowslips as well
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The start of the Oxeye Daisies
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The first Yellow Flag Iris at the wild pond

Small Copper and Red Admiral are two more Butterflies that have made their first appearances of the year this week.

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A Small Copper on a Buttercup
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A Wall. This is a male (broad brown stripe in the middle of the forewing).

May is a time when Slow Worms mate. During courtship, the male takes the female in his jaws and bites the back of her neck.

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Internet photo of Slow Worm courtship

They then intertwine and start some lower body rhythmic waving before mating starts which can last ten hours. Whilst we are unlikely to catch the early parts of this ritual, we may be lucky to see the mating part since it lasts so long and so we shall now be routinely looking under our sampling squares to see what’s going on. There are sometimes a lot of Slow Worms under them:

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I have been making an effort to photograph and identify Ladybirds and thus learn a bit more about them. But every one that I have seen so far this year has been a Harlequin, I’m afraid. This invasive species originating from Asia but introduced to Europe to control aphids on crops is really bad news because it outcompetes our native Ladybird species for food as well as eating their eggs and larvae.

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Harlequin Ladybird
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Melanic form of the Harlequin

The Harlequin is very variable but can be recognised by a white triangle right at the front.

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When we first bought the meadows, it was probably a whole year before we even saw a House Sparrow here. Happily we now have lots:

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A pair of House Sparrows are setting up their home in the House Martin Box and here they are, mating next to it. This involved around five quick mounts and dismounts.

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It was all over quickly and the male went off into the chosen box:

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Summer Starlings are another species that we didn’t see initially but we do now. Here is one disturbing a Green Woodpecker’s bath:

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We have always had Crows though. Here is a rare tender moment between them:

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We have always had Magpies as well. Too many actually. I see that Magpies are managing to get themselves into the middle cage that has a larger gauge than the other two to allow Blackbird-sized birds to get in. But I’m sure it is meant to be Magpie-proof:

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There are a lot of Alexanders growing along some of the hedgerows but in one area of the second meadow, they are starting to encroach inwards. These robust plants are extremely good at self-seeding and, once established, are really difficult to pull out of the ground.

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They are just finishing flowering and starting to set seed so we decided to cut them down with shears and take everything away so at least there won’t be any seed produced in this area this year although the root systems will be still in the ground. We wage a bit of an ongoing war with Alexanders.

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Job done

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For three weeks now, we have been putting out medicated jam sandwiches at dusk to help several of our Foxes that have mange. This needs to be done for at least six weeks and so we are halfway through the treatment. The one-eyed vixen has not missed a single day which is just as well because she really is in a bit of a state:

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I hope that she is already getting better although we won’t be able to tell until her fur starts growing back.

I have come to look forward to taking the sandwiches out at dusk because she is almost always there first. This trail camera photo is just before I arrived and she is waiting on the pinnacle. It had been a rainy day:

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When the next photo was taken, I had appeared at the gate into the paddock. As I then advanced on the pinnacle, she did retreat a bit further than this, but not much – she was wary but stood her ground:

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And as I left, she was back for those jam sandwiches that she loves so much:

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But we are having to constantly review our sandwich-deploying technique to ensure they go down the right throats. For instance, last night the one-eyed Fox was again waiting for me in the ant paddock. She ate a few here and then quickly followed me down to the wild pond for the ones I also put down there. However, after she went, the Magpie ate the rest of the sandwiches. Clearly I need to wait until it is darker and the birds have properly roosted.

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But when she arrived down at the wild pond, it was only to find that the Badgers had come out early and were eating the sandwiches down there, forcing our girl to wait in the background until they were all eaten. If this happens again, I will start putting all the sandwiches out into the ant paddock where the Badgers don’t go until later into the night. It’s all very complicated.

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A ferry was behaving oddly this week. It was anchored alongside us for several days in calm weather, although also making several short trips back to Dover during this time.

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It is The Pride of Canterbury – a P&O ship used on the Dover-Calais route

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Flying a Cypriot marine flag at the stern

After two or three days she set off for Leith near Edinburgh. She is one of two P&O ferries that are going to be safely stored in Leith docks for the rest of the lock down since P&O are now only operating a much reduced ferry schedule.

Here is another interesting vessel that sailed past this morning. This is Solitaire, a pipe layer.

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Solitaire with France behind. She was built as a bulk carrier in 1972 in Hiroshima, Japan, but was then converted to a pipe layer between 1996-8 at Swan Hunter Shipyard on Tyneside. She is 300m long, has a crew of 420 when fully operational and can lay more than 9km of pipe a day.

Sometimes the Moon is so beautiful that I cannot resist trying to photograph it, usually with disappointing results that remind me that I need to get a tripod for my camera. This week, the new Moon was really close to the brightly shining Venus and we were out admiring the spectacle. I was quite pleased with this image of the moon, although I do still need to get that tripod…..

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Kestrels on the Cliffs

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The cliffs stretching off towards Dover

It is dizzying to stand at the base of these towering cliffs and look up. They are but a short distance away from us here in the meadows, yet present a wildly different set of challenges for anything to successfully survive. Consequently, the plants and animals are refreshingly different to the ones in the meadows that we have been spending so much time with during the lock down.

The section of cliff closest to us is a local birding hotspot although it was previously a military firing range.

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A disused Royal Marines firing range. Cracks and crevices in the soft rock allow plants to get a foothold and birds to nest
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The famous Moonraker Cliffs

Last year we located a Kestrel nest high up on these cliffs and we wanted to see if they were using it again this year and so visited this week. There were certainly a lot of Kestrels about – we saw four at the same time but actually there could well have been more. They like to perch on the beds of flints that stick out from the chalk.

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We were delighted that, as we had hoped, there was a bird sitting in the same nest hole. Four young successfully fledged from this nest last year and surely the Kestrels that we see in the meadows have all come from here.

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Several pairs of Fulmars also nest on the cliffs. Fulmars are related to Albatrosses and, like them, they have a tube running along their bill through which they excrete the excess salt that they have ingested while fishing in the sea.

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Internet photo of a Fulmar beak close up. The birds have a salt gland to remove salt from their bodies and the resulting, strongly saline liquid drains out through the tube so that it doesn’t blow into their eyes when they are flying.

They come here for a short time to breed and then head back out to sea again until next year

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A band of Jackdaws were collecting rocks and soft chalky paste and flying off into holes in the cliff. Presumably, then, they are making nests with this although that doesn’t sound very comfortable.

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A Jackdaw with a stone flew into this hole, going in over the Fulmar’s head. Perhaps they are sharing this space, the Jackdaws nesting deeper in?

We hope to go to these cliffs for our daily exercise a few times in the coming weeks to see how the Kestrel nest is getting on.

Back in the meadows, I have had to readjust my thinking about the the baby Badgers. The cubs were finally allowed above ground on 23rd April. For the first few nights they only come up for a short while and their mother is in constant attendance, watching their every move and guarding them from all danger.

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This was completely what we were expecting and in accordance with what we have observed in previous years. Our Badger mother takes tremendous care of her young.

So how does this fit with the lone cub that we saw on four different nights before the cubs officially came up? Now that the cubs are being allowed up escorted closely by their mother,  is one of them still also wandering around on its own for long periods?

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It is even going out into the meadows on its own:

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It all seemed a bit odd.  But then there was this photo:

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It is a bit dark but the mother Badger above is looking after four cubs – there are four of them! She also took all four for a walk along the cliff. Badger cubs are really playful and four exuberant cubs are a lot to look after.

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I think that this Badger mother did only have three cubs – we saw three being moved between setts twice as they were growing and, now that they have come above ground, she is most often with a tightly controlled band of three young. There surely must be a second mother – most probably her daughter from 2018 who still lives within the family group – who has also had one cub. Therefore, one of these babies above would actually be her grandchild rather than her child.

I was wondering if we might expect Scarface, the male of the family group, to be both the father and the grandfather of this lone cub? But I do read that, to avoid excessive inbreeding, mating does take place between adjoining groups of Badgers. That could be what has happened here – there are certainly other nearby communities of Badgers along the cliffs.

Some other Badger photos from this week:

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An Early Spider Orchid has appeared in the meadows:

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One of the County Botanical Recorders who lives nearby has come by to log it because this is a rare and exciting plant. Amazingly,  the Orchid is trying to get the male Buffish Mining Bee to mate with its flower in order to get itself pollinated. It does this by smell rather than sight because that flower really does not look much like a female Buffish Mining Bee to my eye. Of course, our plant here is in solitary splendour all on its own and it would have to self pollinate if it is going to form any seed – the Recorder tells us that this can happen and we should check it to see if the seed heads start to swell.

I am yet to identify a Buffish Mining Bee – the Bee that the Orchid is trying to lure –  in the meadows although, looking at their distribution map, I feel sure that they will be here. So we put these Bees at the top of our ‘Most Wanted’ list and confidently strode out into the meadows to try to spot and photograph one. Of course we didn’t find one, but we did see lots of other interesting stuff whilst we were looking:

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A Small Blue Butterfly. This is really early – they are usually seen from mid May
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Small Blue
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Wall Butterfly
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Green Hairstreak Butterfly. This one has a nice white hairstreak mark showing.
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Speckled Wood Butterfly
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Brown Tip Moth Caterpillars
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Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
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Green Longhorn Moth. Those antennae are ridiculous
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Empis tessellata. A predatory Dance Fly
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Marsham’s Nomad Bee. A kleptoparasitic bee, laying its eggs into the tunnels of the Chocolate Mining Bee (haven’t seen that Bee in the meadows yet either) and Trimmers Mining Bee (yes, seen that one).
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Marsham’s Nomad Bee
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Eristalis pertinax – the Tapered Drone Fly
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The beautiful Common Carder Bumble Bee. This has reminded me that I am meant to be looking out for rare Carder Bees that have a stronghold in Kent – the Moss Carder Bee, the Brown Banded Carder Bee and, most of all, the Shrill Carder Bee. Need to swot up on them so that I know what I’m looking for.
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Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonflies hatching out of the hide pond
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Broad Bodied Chaser ready to go chasing

There are a lot of Craneflies dancing about the meadows at the moment.

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327 species of Cranefly in the UK. This is Tipula vernalis.

If you zoom this photo in to look at its eyes, you see that they are a rather surprising metallic green:

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Here is a pair mating:

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Interesting to see the difference between male (left) and female (right)

This female has been ambushed by a Spider. I am sure that there will be lots of things cashing in on this Cranefly bonanza.

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There are many beautiful plants flowering their hearts out in the meadows right now and here are a few of them:

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Cowslips
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Hawthorn. I hadn’t noticed before that that anthers are pink when the flowers first open. Absolutely gorgeous.
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Hawthorn flower in close up. These pink anthers wither and turn black as the flower ages.
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Apple Blossom (and a Red Mason Bee)

But I’m moving on to Foxes for this last photo for today. This is of our friend, the One-eyed Vixen, and we can clearly see the problem with her left eye. Nice shiny nose though:

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The Troublesome Toddler

As we observe and record events as the years cycle by, there have come to be several annual happenings that we eagerly await. Probably the most keenly anticipated of all is the night that the Badger cubs are first allowed above ground and this hasn’t happened yet although I am expecting it any day.

But one of the cubs this year is a rule-breaker and has now escaped three times from the burrow before the official launch date.  Each time we have seen it, there is then an interval of a few nights before it again forgets that it is meant to stay locked down at home and reappears above ground once more. Here it is on its second unauthorised trip out, still very wobbly on its legs:

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Each time it is discovered out, it gets frogmarched back to the burrow:

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Its third and most recent escape was on Saturday night:

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The arrival of the Green Hairstreak Butterflies is another day that we look forward to and we first saw them here on 16th April this year:

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These are very small Butterflies that look dark when they fly because they have brown upper wings. They spend a lot of time engaged in pitch battles with their rivals but their true glory is revealed when they rest down and show the fluorescent green of their underwings. Their larval food plant on chalk downland is Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Common Rock-Rose.

We first saw Holly Blues on the very same day as the Hairstreaks this year:

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The first Dragonfly sighting is another red-letter day and that was yesterday, when we saw a beautifully shiny Broad-Bodied Chaser:

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In dry spells, Green Woodpeckers start to come and bathe in the ponds and we will never tire of their extraordinary washing technique.

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A male arrives
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All reasonably normal so far
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But now look what’s happened
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They often rub themselves in the sand as a final flourish but the camera didn’t capture that on this occasion

The cameras trained at the ponds take footage of a lot of different birds washing. They fluff their feathers up, sprinkle some water around and emerge looking pretty much the same as when they went in. No other bird species does such a spectacularly thorough job as the Green Woodpecker. Or is it that their feathers aren’t as waterproof as other birds?

We are locked down for another three weeks at least and I am trying to turn this into a positive opportunity to get to know the insects that live here a bit better. However, sometimes identification is a struggle. Take, for instance, this small little thing below:

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Given its shiny black-and-yellow abdomen, I was looking in the Wasp section of my insect books. However, it turns out that this is a Gooden’s Nomad Bee (Nomada Goodeniana). There are 34 species of Nomad Bee in the UK and they are cleptoparasites on Andrena Mining Bees. A cleptoparasitic species is one that lives off the food supplies that another species has collected to feed its own young. The two yellow spots on the thorax tell me that the Bee above is a female. She will enter the host’s nesting burrow, lay an egg in the wall of an unsealed nest cell and the resulting grub will then destroy the host egg or grub and proceed to live off the food store. The three host species that this particular Nomad Bee uses are the Buffish Mining Bee, the Grey-patched Mining Bee and the Cliff Mining Bee.

I find this all completely fascinating, particularly the interaction between different species, and I was delighted to discover that one of the other Bee species that I have managed to positively identify this week turns out to be the Cliff Mining Bee (Andrena thoracica), one of the hosts of the Gooden’s Nomad Bee:

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The Bee was in constant motion, rummaging around in the grass and this is my excuse for the photo being out of focus. It’s a very striking-looking Bee.

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This Bee is strongly associated with coastal habitats and the flowery habitats nearby and Blackthorn is one of their favourite nectar sources and so it makes perfect sense that we should find it here.

A third Bee that I have successfully identified is this Trimmer’s Mining Bee:

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Trimmer’s Mining Bee, another small Bee common in southern, coastal, flowery areas.

The bird ringer has been doing some more solitary ringing in the meadows. As well as catching and ringing another 23 Linnets, he caught this young male Yellowhammer:

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He also caught a Lesser Whitethroat. This bird has just arrived back from East Africa via the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Italy.

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This bird apparently had a very tatty tail. It was born last year somewhere in the UK and has then flown down to East Africa and back with the same feathers that it grew when it was a youngster in the nest. It will now rear a family of its own this summer before it finally moults and gets some fresh feathers to take it back to Africa again at the end of the summer.

But this was the last ringing session for the foreseeable future because the BTO has today disallowed any further ringing outside the confines of one’s own garden, even if the ringing site is within an easy stroll and is done in complete solitude as was the case here.

At least two of our resident Foxes are showing signs of mange and we have embarked on a six week programme of putting out medicated jam sandwiches for them each evening.

One of the Foxes affected is this one-eyed vixen:

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I am putting the sandwiches out in two different places to try to spread them amongst more Foxes – some sandwiches go down by the wild pond and some go onto the stone pinnacle up in the ant paddock. The one-eyed vixen waits for me by the wild pond at dusk. She hoovers up all the sandwiches there and high-tails it up to the ant paddock to get those too:

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By the time the other Fox with mange arrives at the pinnacle, the sandwiches have often gone. Although he did manage to beat her to them last night:

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We have decided to tweak things so that we put sandwiches at the wild pond at dusk but the ones onto the pinnacle go out two hours later at our bedtime. Hopefully this may thwart the one-eyed vixen and her love of sandwiches.

Before I leave Foxes, here are another couple of lovely Fox photos:

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Blackbirds must be feeding young because they are turning up on various cameras with beaks full of worms:

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Last year we had two Starling breeding in the meadows. This year we seem to have a little band of them which is really pleasing.

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What a fantastic palette of colours on this Greenfinch:

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Following the recent clarification that it is not illegal to drive a short distance for your daily exercise, this weekend we visited the wood for the first time in 4 weeks. It was such a relief to refill the empty feeders and ponds. Most of the trail cameras had stopped working and so I actually have very few photos to show for our month’s absence from the wood. We have a camera on a newly-dug but unused sett. However, occasionally Badgers apparently do visit it:

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There were many photos of a Buzzard poking around in more or less this exact spot on several different days. I wonder what is so special about it?

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Redwing were using the ponds a lot before they dried up. These birds should now have returned to their breeding grounds:

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An unusual view of a Jay:

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The vegetation has taken a big step into spring since we were last there:

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Patches of Bluebells
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The Yellow Archangels are coming up
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Happily, the area of Twayblades has reappeared this year

We had so missed the wood and it was fantastic to be back. But it was also great to discover that it had actually been getting along perfectly all right without us because we are uncertain when we might be able to next return.

 

 

 

Another Round of Jam Sandwiches

Most of the Foxes that live around here are looking in tiptop condition:

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But two of our resident Foxes do now have mild mange and we need to take action because this is something that we should be able to help with. One of the animals affected is the one-eyed vixen. She has just had cubs and she needs to be well to care for her family and so that they don’t all get mange. Here she is awaiting the nightly peanuts. She’s a bit early:

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The second Fox is a male who also has a ropey tail:

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Mange is a horrible thing. Caused by parasitic mites, it can quickly spread through a community of Foxes and the animals eventually die, usually by secondary infections getting into sores on their skin.

I have twice previously treated our Foxes successfully for mange by sprinkling drops of Arsen Sulphur onto jam sandwiches and putting these out with the peanuts at dusk. This then needs to be done every day for six weeks. I’m not sure that we will be going anywhere for the next six weeks and so it is perfect timing in that respect.

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Luckily I already have a bottle of in-date Arsen Sulphur

I emailed the charity The Fox Project to check that it is alright to give Arsen Sulphur to lactating Foxes and they have said that it was fine and that it should indeed clear this mild mange up. They suggested that drops of Arnica 30c could also help and I have now ordered some of that and will drop it onto the sandwiches as well once it arrives.

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Two rounds of medicated jam sandwiches ready to go out

The one-eyed vixen is a jam sandwich-dispenser’s dream. She is always first on the scene after I have scattered them down. She wolfs most of them before anyone else arrives and so I am definitely getting the medicine into her. The male with mange is more tricky because he generally doesn’t turn up until all the sandwiches have gone. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on for him – maybe we need to put a second batch out later in the evening as well.

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The one-eyed vixen eating all the sandwiches

Two days after being moved to their new burrow, one of the Badger cubs staged a Great Escape….

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…and got ignominiously returned to the sett:

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Presumably this cub was then well and truly told off because there have been no further reappearances in the nights that have followed.

The Badgers have been collecting a lot of fresh bedding recently. We put some long dry grass out for them that we had generated whilst working in the meadows:

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It had all gone by the morning:

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And it was enjoyable watching the videos of them taking it away:

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Before this spell of lovely weather, we had many days of strong, bitterly cold north-easterly winds. The meadows are very exposed to winds off the sea and we now realise that the entire 300m of hedgerow along the more elevated western edge has been damaged by these winds and is now brown and withered. There is a lot of Hawthorn in this section of the hedgerow and this had just got its fresh, tender young leaves.

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This hedgerow is brown instead of green for as far as the eye can see

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Where there was some shelter from the winds, such as along this path, the hedgerow remains joyously green and the Hawthorn is about to come out into flower.

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I am sure that this hedgerow is going bounce back and will green up again over the next few weeks, especially once the Blackthorn element gets into leaf. However, it has to be likely that all the Hawthorn will not now flower this year and consequently there will be no berries for the wildlife along this whole stretch in the autumn and this is very bad news.

The orchard is in blossom. I can’t decide if I prefer Pear blossom with its lovely dark anthers against the white petals:

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or Apple blossom with its exquisite shades of pink:

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We realise that we need to pay more attention to the pruning of this odd-looking Pear tree below. There are two varieties grafted onto one trunk, Doyenne du Commice on the left and Conference on the right, but they are growing to different heights and shapes and remedial action needs to be taken this coming winter:

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Last autumn, I planted several different types of Tulip to be used as cut flowers this spring.

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Having home grown flowers in the house always gives me an immense amount of pleasure:

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The RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove have sent us 60kg of Turtle Dove seed mix that we will be putting up onto the strip for 8 weeks from the beginning of May, following their guidelines on how best to do this.  Hopefully 2020 will be the year when Turtle Doves drop by, see the scattered seed and all the lovely nesting opportunities that we have for them here, and decide to stay and breed.

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This seed is for Turtle Doves and so we won’t put it in the feeding cages, where it would be inaccessible to larger birds like Doves. However, the cages have proved such a success in retaining available food for smaller farmland birds, that we still plan to put some of our own seed into the cages. We regularly move these cages so that there is not a build up of uneaten food that may then harbour disease.

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Yellowhammer and Stock Dove
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Yellowhammer and Linnets

This is a very unflattering trail camera photo of the dog:

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She looks like some kind of Yeti but perhaps we are all going to look like that when we emerge, blinking and tentative, out of lock-down.

The bird ringer has recently bought a moth trap and needless to say he is already much more competent than me. But I’m not about to embark on competitive mothing, although the concept does make me giggle. He caught a very rare moth over the weekend in his nearby garden – a Barred Tooth-Striped Moth. This Moth used to be recorded widely over the UK but has now dramatically declined with only 63 records nationally since 2000. The larval food plant is Wild Privet.

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A Red Kite is still a show-stopping sight here and one flew over on Easter Sunday:

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A Tawny Owl is still regularly visiting the ant paddock on calm nights:

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We saw this male Sparrowhawk in one of our Pine trees at dusk:

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A Linnet in a treetop:

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Female Green Woodpecker:

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And a male Starling (blue at the base of the beak) having a drink:

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The meadows look east over the sea to where the Sun and the Moon rise up above the horizon. For the first few wonderful minutes they are often blood red and my last photo for today is the Moon coming up one evening last week in all its magnificent splendour:

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